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A Romanticist Painter: William Russell Flint

 

 

A L Baldry

"The Studio" (Vol. 60: 1913)

 

Among the many faculties with which an artist should be endowed few can be accounted as of more importance that the power to

invest his work with a consistent and significant atmosphere. This atmosphere should be the expression of his own personal taste

and conviction, of that selective instinct which guides him in the choice and treatment of his material, and of that capacity for realising

his impressions which is necessary to enable him to make intelligible to other people the attitude which he adopts in the practice of

his art. If he cannot convey to others the sentiment by which he is inspired, his production must always remain unconvincing; it will be

unpersuasive because it will not suggest that the artist himself has arrived at any definite conclusion about the aim and purpose of his

effort.

 

There is, however, a very real difference between the creation of an atmosphere and the adoption of a convention. The one is

reflective of the artist's strength, the other of his weakness, because the atmosphere comes from the domination of intellectual and

temperamental qualities, while the convention is merely an evasion of thought and a substitution of mechanical mannerisms for

independent and original activity. When the artist lapses into a convention he has ceased to use his intelligence, he has lost the

faculty of observation, he has become simply a machine which turns out a sort of stock art pattern - a lifeless and soulless piece of

mechanism incapable of any variation of movement and wanting in all power of adaptation.

 

But if in his practice he is influenced by his temperament and if he uses his intelligence to discover what is the direction in which the

best results are possible to him, his work will never  become conventional, and yet it will bear indisputably the stamp of his personality.

The finer artist he is, the more personal it will be, and the more definite in its assertion of the impressions he has received and of the

conclusions at which he has arrived. It is only the man of strong character and with the clearest of belief in himself who can surround

the whole of his production with the atmosphere of himself, and can make it always consistently express his intentions; it is only the

artist with the firmest of convictions who can take up any type of material and so shape and adapt it that, without any perversion of

natural realities, it will illustrate adequately his aesthetic creed. By the way in which he can assert himself in his work the degree of his

capacity is measured; the more plainly he proves it to be his, and his alone, the more evidence is his right to be counted as a master

of his craft.

 

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It is because the work of Mr Russell Flint satisfies these conditions to an unusual extent that he has a special claim upon the attention of all serious students of modern

art. He is very definitely a painter with a temperament, an artist who looks at nature in a manner that is quite his own, and who personal taste is amply apparent in every

phase of his production. But, at the same time, he does not allow this display of his personal preferences to degenerate into a mannerism or to become simply a

stereotyped trick which saves him from the exertion of thinking out new ways of expressing himself. He keeps his mind alive to fresh suggestions and allows the fullest

scope to his receptivity; all that he does with the suggestions he receives is to bring them into agreement with the artistic convictions by which he is guided and to clothe

them with the sentiment that seems to him to be appropriate.

 

When this sentiment is analysed it is seen to be a kind of delicate romanticism: there is in everything that Mr Russell Flint produces a romantic atmosphere which makes

itself felt quite as much in the way he treats his material as in his choice of subject. His love of romance leads him often into the selection of motives from the life of past

ages when people behaved picturesquely and veiled the commonplaces of existence with sumptuous pageantry; but it colour quite as obviously his view of the modern

world. It enables him to realise scenes from the age of chivalry with all the charm and pictorial persuasiveness that must - as we like to think - have distinguished them; but

it helps him, also, to prove that there are romantic possibilities even in the life of our own times, and that the artist who is keen to recognise these possibilities need not

revert to the past to find scope for his fancy.

 

For instance, if such picturesque inventions as his well-conceived fantasies, ''The Huntresses and the Knight",

"The Interruption", and "The Mock Europa", are compared with an evidence subject from modern life, like

"Conversation", or with a scene like "Bathers on a Mediterranean Beach", which might belong to any period,

the fact that the atmosphere with which they are invested comes from the artist and not from the material he

has selected can be fully appreciated. His fantasies are convincing because he shows in them a regard for

facts which related quite as much to the present as the past, his records of modern realities are significant

because he has seized upon the opportunities they afford him to invest facts with that charm of abstract

beauty which is the foundation of true romance. But whether he is re-creating or recording it is always the

romantic outlook upon which his mind is fixed, and it is always his mind that directs and controls the working

of his hand. 

 

 

 

On the right, we show "The Huntresses and the Knight"

by William Russel Flint

William Russell Flint - ''The Huntresses and the Knight''

 

William Russell Flint - ''Bathers at a Mediterranean Beach''

To the left, we show "Bathers on a Mediterranean Beach"

by William Russel Flint

 

 

 

 

It is the same in his landscapes; he never is satisfied to present a truth in a commonplace way. A serious

student of nature he assuredly is - a shrewd observer who dissects and analyses with consummate care.

But to the power of analysis he adds a remarkable capacity for reconstruction, and his dissection enables

him to eliminate with certainty what is unnecessary and to build up with what remains a record of nature that

is true enough in its general character, and yet is one that reflects indisputably his aesthetic instinct and his

personal taste. His "Autumns Fading Glory" is typical of his methods in landscape painting; a subject that

might easily have become too literal if treated by an artist deficient in the poetic sense, it has been made by

Mr Russell Flint the means of conveying a singularly clear impression not only of the spirit of nature but also

of her tragic intensity.

 

This one picture, indeed, sums up nearly all the qualities which make his work in landscape so interesting and so satisfying. He has grasped it it just what was requisite to

explain his motive and to tell his story, and to the main idea he has with admirable judgment subordinated all those minor details which would, if they had been obtruded,

have obscured the meaning of the subject. So, too, in other like the "Amalfi", the "Capri: Afternoon Sunlight", and the "Marina Grande, Sorrento", he has avoided that

temptation to set down too much which always lies in wait for the painters who have not learned how to disregard trivialities and who do not perceive what a weakening of

the first impression must result from an attempt to include in their record all that nature puts before them. In all these paintings he has allowed a singularly clear perception

of the way in which the end he desired could be attained to govern the whole progress of his work from its first inception to its final completion. He has started with a

definite purpose in view and to the working out of this purpose he has devoted the whole of his attention - ignoring with commendable discretion everything that would not

bring him directly to the right conclusion.

 

It is not unreasonable to assume that Mr Russell Flint's unusual acuteness of artistic judgment is due, partly at all events, to the nature of his early upbringing, and that the

rapidity of his mental development resulted directly from the associations of his youth. He was born in Edinburgh, in 1880, and his father, F Wighton Flint, was an artist of

exceptional technical ability and endowed with a keen appreciation of the charm and character of Highland scenery. With such a home influence it is quite intelligible that

the lad not only learned the practical side of painting thoroughly but acquired also habits of observation and reflection which have been of infinite value to him in later life;

upon the judicious training he received during his earliest years from a man of great capacity and wide experience he was able to build up the confident and intelligent

accomplishment which makes him now such a prominent figure in the art of our time.

 

His first professional experience was gained at Edinburgh as a commercial designer and lithographer for a local printing firm, but while he was engaged on this work he

spent his evening in study at the Edinburgh School of Art. In 1900 he migrated to London, where for eighteen months he was employed as an illustrator for a medical

publishing house - doing things that it can well be imagined were not particularly pleasing to a man with poetic aspirations - but after a while he found a more congenial

occupation, and in 1904 commenced a four years' engagement on the regular staff of the "Illustrated London News". Since then he has been increasingly busy as an

illustrator and has worked for a large number of journals and magazines, but latterly he has divided his time fairly equally between illustrative work in colour and picture

painting. He is a member of the Royal Scottish Water Colour Society, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Art Workers' Guild, and other societies; he has gained a silver

medal at the Salon for his water-colour illustrations to the "Morte d'Arthur", and he has pictures in the collections of the King of Italy, and the Italian city of Undine, and in the

Liverpool and Cardiff Galleries, so that he may fairly claim to have secured a larger measure of recognition than usually comes to an artist of his age.

 

Some consideration must be given to his technical methods because, naturally enough, the way in which he works helps very greatly to make intelligible the purpose and

intention of his art. He is a particularly accomplished craftsman and in water-colour painting especially he has a certainty of method that makes the solution of even the most

difficult of technical problems a matter of comparative ease. It is here that the effects of his admirable early training can be plainly recognised. It is characteristic of

Mr Russell Flint's water-colour work that though the methods he uses are comparatively complex he is able to achieve in the final result an air of spontaneity and fresh

directness that is entirely satisfying. He really builds up his picture gradually by alternately laying in broad and well-defined washes and scrubbing down what he has laid

in so as to bring it into a proper condition for the next stage of development. At the last he puts in crisply and with clean decision sharp touches of colour which define the

facts to which he wishes to give prominence, and these touches bring together the whole design and make it live. Of course, this method demands a very clear conviction

from the outset and a conviction, too, that must be kept unaltered through all the stages by which the picture is evolved; but then this power of visualising and retaining his

first impression is one that he has cultivated so well that there is little danger of his going astray.

 

What he is likely to do in the near future is an interesting subject for speculation; to an artist whose age is only thirty-three, and whose work is already of such unquestionable

excellence, almost any degree of achievement would seem to be possible. Naturally, much depends upon the view he takes of his professional responsibilities, but in that

matter he has proved himself to be too sincerely in earnest for any apprehension to be felt that he will relax his effort. He is now taking pains to enlarge his outlook and to

gain new experiences - he has, for example, just spent nine months in a tour through Italy and Sicily, visiting a number of places and making a great variety of sketches. But

so far there is no sign that he feels any inclination to modify that view of life and nature which has hitherto coloured so pleasantly the whole of his production. A romanticist

he is by instinct and association, and a romanticist it is to be hoped he will remain to the end, because after all there is nothing like romance to give a seductive atmosphere

to an artist's work and to keep him out of those pitfalls which beset the path of the mere materialist.

 

 

 

 

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